The first is that since we are creatures built for community, and that God often gives us the support we need in the form of each other, the social distancing thing is particularly painful. While in other times of crisis we can and often do spend more time in each other’s company, we can’t and shouldn’t be doing that right now. At least not physically.
Which brings us nicely to my second thought, which is this: We have never before been able to remain so connected while isolating ourselves. And that’s a huge mercy. We have video chats. We have Facebook. We have phones. We have multiplayer videogames. If anything, the irony in this is that in some ways, we feel more connected than we usually do. Thank God for the Internet, my friends.
It never fails to amaze me how restful it is to come home. For various reasons, this week has been a little rough. Good as well, but definitely rough, and that partly because I didn’t end up going home last weekend–for fun reasons, but the point stands. And sadly, I didn’t even properly realize it until I was done with work and finally, finally, driving southwards and home. It was like I could feel the tension leaving my shoulders, my neck, my back, little bit by little bit, and by the time I pulled into the driveway almost all the frustration and borderline hoplessness that had crept up through the week had all but faded away.
It’s been about a month since I returned to the States, and somehow it feels like it’s been even longer. Coming back in the midst of the holidays probably had something to do with that, as did a trip back to Idaho to visit my family. And then there’s the unpacking and resettling, too, not to mention everything else that goes into adjusting to a new routine.
What all this means is that now, five weeks after boarding the plane in Yerevan, I’ve finally slowed down enough to start processing those four months in Armenia. At the moment, it mostly just feels like a flood of all the emotions I haven’t had time for since getting back.
And I miss it. I miss it so much more than I thought I would. I miss it so much more than I thought I did.
It’s the people, mostly– the friends I gained and everyone I met: my host family, the Birthright staff, the other volunteers, the amazing people I worked with. Now that I’m finding a new sense of normalcy, it’s strange to think that these people who became such a big part of my life are so far away.
Beyond that, though, it’s also the fact that I have to find a place for myself again, at least when it comes to working. There’s writing, of course, though that’s taking more wrestling than I was anticipating, and a whole slew of job applications to fill out, certifications to get or renew, resumes to write and write again. It’s hard not to get discouraged, especially after the simplicity of volunteering and the five years spent at the same job before that.
But, I’m making progress. If nothing else, I’ve gotten unpacked and my room is starting to feel like my own. It’s been a while since I’ve had a dedicated writing area, and I’m already wondering how I managed to survive so long without it. (Well sort of wondering. Coffee shops do a wonderful job of filling the gap.) There’s still a long ways to go, but at least I’m on the road.
This week, the way it always does when I’m visiting my family, my mind wandered back to that old saying about home and how you can never go there again. And, if pressed, I’d have to admit that I think it’s true. Once you move away from home, it will never be quite the same again. You’ll change, home will change. The pieces will never fit together quite the way they did before. But really, that’s only part of the story.
For one thing, change isn’t something that only happens when you leave. It makes it more visible, sure, and might make it happen faster as you adjust to a different set of circumstances and surroundings, but if you stayed, things wouldn’t remain static. Children grow, towns expand or shrink, new people come and old ones age or move away. Your hometown in 1998 is not the same place as your hometown in 2008 or 2018. Not entirely.
But then again, even if years pass between visits, there’s still familiarity. When I visit my family, I might not be sure which of my siblings is sleeping in which room, or even which ones are actually still living with my parents, but when we all come together I can guarantee that there will be exuberant conversation, giddy tickle fights, and more than a few terrible puns. It brings another old saying to mind: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
It’s not something exclusive to your first home, of course. If– when I go back to Armenia, it won’t be the same as it was while I was a volunteer with Birthright Armenia. Hopefully some of that will be because the country has continued to grow stronger. Some of it will have more to do with the fact that it won’t be my first visit. And some of it will be for other reasons entirely. But however it has changed, it will still be Hayastan, my homeland and the place I spent four crazy months in late 2017.
So, no. When you leave a place, you won’t be able to go back to things exactly as they were. But maybe it won’t be so different as you think, either.
Happy New Year! To those of you who have been following me for a while, thanks so much– you mean the world to me! To anyone just stumbling across my little corner of the internet, welcome, and if you happen to like what you see feel free to stay a while.
Between the holidays and the end of my Armenia trip, December was another fairly quiet month around here when it comes to writing. Friday blog posts went up every week, but nothing much beyond that. But! I’m back in the States, and while I haven’t manage to settle into anything like a routine just yet, I’m looking forward to more time for writing and the chance to do some more work on my bigger projects, as well as getting back into the swing of two short stories a month.
Speaking of those bigger projects, there’s two I’m particularly excited about! The first is that I’ll be working to finish the second draft of a fantasy novel tentatively titled The Seven this year. Check out the teaser here, and keep an eye out for more information as the year progresses!
The second is that I’ve got more Tanner and Miranda stories in the works, with an eye towards writing a complete collection. The two stories I’ve completed so far (Under Whiskey Hill and The Ethan Lindsay Job) were so much fun to write, and I know there’s a bunch more adventures in store for the siblings. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading about them as much as I’m enjoying writing them.
That’s all I’ve got for now! I hope the start of your year has been a good one, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the months ahead. As always, drop me a line in the comments if you’ve got any questions, or just to say hi! I’d love to hear from you.
I’ve been writing this post all week, a few words here, a few phrases there, trying to convince it all to come together into something that might help me share a fraction of the thoughts and emotions that are spinning through my head. Now that I’m so close to the end of this trip, the conflicting feelings of wanting to stay and go are even stronger, and my excitement for going home again is tempered by the fact that I don’t want to leave. These past four months have proven more meaningful than I ever imagined.
It’s funny: a year ago, I wasn’t even certain that I would apply to the Birthright program. It seemed like such a wild idea to drop everything and travel to the other side of the world, especially when I wasn’t even certain that Armenia was “my” homeland. My family’s roots are in Kessab, Syria, not the area that now makes up the Republic of Armenia. I assumed that I would be able to learn about the history of my people generally, but that it would feel far removed from that of my family. I was wrong.
I feel a connection to this country that is far stronger than I ever expected it to be. I want to see it grow and thrive, and I want to do what I can to help that happen, whether from the Diaspora or from Armenia itself whenever I get a chance to come back.
Of course, the fact that it’s a beautiful place doesn’t hurt. I spent the majority of my time in Yerevan, and I’ve already talked about how much I love the rose-colored stones that give the city its distinctive look, and our trip to Artsakh in October took us through mountainous territory that captured my heart and my imagination, as is evident in the absurd number of pictures I have from those four days alone. And this past weekend I got to go on one last excursion, this time to the city of Gyumri in the northwest of the country.
The city is far smaller than Yerevan with a population of around 120,000, and if I had more time I could see myself taking advantage of the option of volunteering there. I don’t regret staying in the capital for the full four months I was here, but I also know that that choice meant that I haven’t seen huge portions of what Armenia has to offer. In case I needed one, I suppose it’s an excuse to come back again.
This won’t be my last post about Armenia. There’s so much more to say, and in the coming weeks and months and longer as I process this wonderful journey, I’m sure I’ll bend your ears about it again. Probably, in part, to complain about reverse culture shock. But that’s tomorrow’s trouble, and I’ll deal with it then.
As we say at Birthright Armenia: It’s not “goodbye”, it’s “see you later”.
While last week’s adventures can best be described as big and grand, my favorite parts of the past few days have definitely been of the smaller sort. Which is not to say that the experiences are going to stick with me any less. In fact, it’s often these incidental experiences that work themselves most deeply into my memories.
That being said, calling a khash party “small” is probably a bit misleading. Khash (խաշ) is a dish made by boiling sheep or cow’s feet to make a broth, which is then seasoned with garlic and salt to taste and given substance by crumbling dried lavash into it. It is traditionally eaten in the morning, and, in Armenia at least, only during months that have an “r” in the name. Vodka is often served as well, and you probably won’t feel like eating much else for the rest of the day.
I got to enjoy the meal with a large group from Impact Hub Yerevan, the amazing coworking space where the Repat Armenia office is located. Or rather, I did once I double-checked the address and realized that I’d ended up at the wrong branch of the restaurant. It all worked out in the end–hunger and the nagging knowledge that you’re already late do wonders to keep you walking quickly–and the rest of the morning was spent enjoying each other’s company over tasty food.
That, I think, is one of my favorite things about being here. We love food and we love friends, and we make sure to eat food with friends every chance we get. And by “friends” we mean everyone from brand new acquaintances to lifelong companions. All those old stories: Beowulf. The Iliad. The Odyssey. Hospitality was deeply ingrained in those cultures as well, and there was an assumption that guests would be treated a certain way. After spending two months in Armenia, I think I understand it a bit better.
Another highlight of the week happened while I was shadowing at the hospital. It wasn’t medical in nature, and I’m still missing the chance to be more involved in that field, but that’s another topic for another day. What my time shadowing at Nork Marash has given me every day I’m there is an incredible immersion in the language, and earlier this week I got the chance to see how far I’ve come.
A family who had come in several times before came in again. At one point, the doctor stepped out of the room and I stayed behind. Since they had met me before, several of the family members knew that I was an American, and I heard them mention that fact to each other, which I took as an opportunity to mention that I did speak a little Armenian.
It was so much fun to talk with them. As soon as they knew I could understand, they asked me questions about where I was from and why I was in Armenia, and though I didn’t always know the exact word I wanted to use, we definitely got by. It was such a simple conversation, but the reminder that I’ve learned enough Armenian to make basic connections with strangers here has left me a little giddy all week.
Other than that, it’s been a fairly low-key week. A couple members of my language class are finishing up their time here, so we all went out to dinner together to celebrate (and practice our Armenian). It’s rained once or twice, and most of the trees are boasting beautiful yellow leaves. I’m about a week past halfway through my trip now, and while I miss everyone back home terribly, I feel a similar tug every time I think about leaving. I suppose the only thing to do is to savor every minute of the time I have left.